More than a decade after his feature film debut, Chain Letter, Deon Taylor is diving headfirst into the genres that first sparked his love of filmmaking.
In his new thriller, The Intruder, Taylor turns his lens on Annie and Scott Russell (Meagan Good and Michael Ealy), a married couple who purchase a stunning estate in Napa Valley from an older gentleman, Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid). Unfortunately, though the couple is determined to make the home their own, Charlie refuses to let go of the house–or of his obsession with Annie.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, Taylor spoke with Shadow And Act about moving from pro-basketball to film, The Intruder, and why he has never given up.
Taylor has always been interested in telling stories on film. However, —there wasn’t always a clear path for him to do so. That never deterred the Gary, Indiana native. Instead, he dug deep and gathered every resource at his disposal to begin making the films that ignited his soul.
“This script was one of the first scripts that I read, and I said, ‘This is me,’” he said. “I’ve always like[d] other people’s scripts. However, being an independent artist, I’ve always been forced to write my own thing because I’ve been trying to find that one thing that speaks to me. I just liked everything about The Intruder. It was such a fun read, and it took me on a ride. It was the blueprint to a lot of the things that I really wanted to do film wise. I’m a rule breaker. Everything just really spoke to me as a blessing because David Loughery is such a great writer, a much better writer than me. But, it was just fun to read something that really sparked.”
Though screenwriter David Loughery didn’t initially have a Black cast in mind to portray Annie and Scott, Taylor knew this was an opportune time to put a spotlight on Black people in the thriller genre. “It was an opportunity to show a millennial couple that just so happens to be African American,” said the Meet the Blacks director. “I loved that I could drop them in there and have them buy a $3.5 million house. Casting wise, they were all my choices. I’ve always loved Meagan and Michael and what was interesting about this movie was sometimes when you get ready to put together these types of films you wanna go after people that audiences recognize. Michael Ealy is such a strong, dynamic actor. I just feel like Meagan is just someone that I’ve been a fan of for a long, long time. I had never seen Meagan do this. I’m always trying to play someone against [a] type, which is what I did with Paula Patton in Traffik.”
With Ealy and Good onboard, Taylor knew that he needed the perfect actor to step in Charlie Peck’s shoes to make the narrative equally exciting and terrifying. “I remember just saying, ‘Dennis Quaid,'” the Black and Blue director recalled. “We all laughed because we were just like, “There is no way.” It was back to playing off types. I wrote Dennis Quaid a letter because I had no relationship with him. We’re like the smallest independent company in the world. I basically said, ‘I’m just a gigantic fan, probably like most of the people in the world, and I have this little movie that we’re making independently, and here’s why I think it would be great for you.’ Surprisingly enough, he read the letter, his agent read the letter, his manager read the letter, and then they read the script.”
Once his cast came together, Taylor knew that the next piece of the puzzle was finding the gorgeous estate that the Russells would purchase from Peck. That in and of itself was an entire ordeal. “I was running around trying to find out where we could shoot the movie,” he said. “I live up near Tahoe, and I thought, ‘Tahoe is the perfect place for this movie, but we couldn’t afford to shoot in Tahoe.’ We were scouting there for two and a half, three weeks and I couldn’t find anything. Finally, I was like, ‘You know what? Can you guys tell me where there are haunted houses there?’ The man was like, ‘Oh man! We know where a bunch of haunted houses are.’ As we pulled up and I saw the house, I said, ‘This is it.’ Everyone was like, ‘No, we can’t use this house because the inside is so small.’ I said, ‘That’s why it’s perfect! It’s one hundred years old. It’s historic.'”
Following The Intruder, Taylor also has Black and Blue with Naomie Harris slated for the fall, and he’s also reteamed with Michael Ealy who will star opposite Hillary Swank in the forthcoming film, Fatale. “I’m just working,” he chuckled. “I really love film. I draw a line directly from basketball to film. It’s not because someone’s paying me, it’s because I love the game. Anytime that I can wrap my head around movies and I can do it correctly, and I can make sure that it’s gonna be dope — I’m doing it. As a Black filmmaker, it’s been interesting because, for the last thirteen years, one of the things I believe God has really put in me is the ability to be good at all of these different genres.”
Playing basketball overseas in a place where he could not speak the language, and he was isolated from his family and friends, also helped Taylor prepare for Hollywood. “I fell in love with cinema and film, it was like playing basketball all over again,” he reflected. “I had to learn how to shoot, what cameras to use, how to direct, everything. Now that I look back, I go, ‘Damn. You know what? Maybe I am crazy.’ I’ve flown to L.A. and not had enough money to go home. I’ve slept in the car overnight. I’ve done everything where you’re like, ‘Yo, what are you doing?!; I’ve sacrificed a lot to pursue this, and the pursuit was not about anything else but just the love of making movies and trying to figure out how to make a movie in Hollywood.”
The pursuit is definitely paying off. “This year, you’re going to get The Intruder on May 3rd, then you’re going to get Black and Blue, shot by Dante Spinotti with Naomie Harris and Tyrese Gibson. I’m also gonna give you the new Meet the Blacks movie, which is Mike Epps and Katt Williams, a movie directed for the culture. I’m excited about being able to be the person to do all of this,” he said.
Watch the official trailer for The Intruder below.
The Intruder premieres May 3, 2019.
Photo: ATLANTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 23: Director Deon Taylor speaks onstage during “The Intruder” Clark Atlanta University Spring Fest 2019 at Clark Atlanta University Student Center on April 23, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Screen Gems)
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide